What do a Vail pastor and Craig river guide have in common?
Let us be good stewards of God’s creation
Last year, Gov. John Hickenlooper designated the third Saturday of May to be Colorado Public Lands Day to “encourage all Coloradans to get outside and enjoy our unparalleled public lands.”
To celebrate the first Public Lands Day on May 20, Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Vail, where I am the pastor, offered prayers of thanksgiving for the gift of God’s creation and for our elected leaders who recognize the importance of celebrating and protecting this precious gift.
Along with Gov. Hickenlooper, Coloradans understand the importance of protecting our shared wild places. More than 90 percent of our state’s citizens spend time enjoying Colorado’s natural beauty and wildlife at one of our four national parks, eight national monuments or 42 state parks. Indeed, our shared love of nature and wild places is something that unites us. The 2017 State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll from Colorado College shows that large majorities of members of both parties in our state express strong support for protecting public lands. Despite this strong support, however, our public lands are facing new threats.
In April, President Trump ordered a review of tens of thousands of acres of federal lands and three national monuments in Colorado which are at risk of losing their protected status: Browns Canyon, Chimney Rock, and Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez. Browns Canyon makes up 22,000 acres of protected land. If you’ve visited, you know its stunning rock spires are unique among Colorado’s landscape. Preserving Browns Canyon’s status as a national monument is key to protecting critical habitat for species such as bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats, and elk. Both the Chimney Rock and Canyon of the Ancients monuments safeguard ancient Native American sites that remain culturally and spiritually significant for their communities today. Without designation as national monuments, Browns Canyon, Chimney Rock, and Canyons of the Ancients would be at risk from new human development including mining and drilling.
Besides preserving unique geography, critical habitat, and ancient archeological sites, national parks in Colorado are a boon to our state’s economy. Since Chimney Rock’s designation as a national monument in 2012, visitation to the area is up 43 percent, leading to a 33-percent increase in sales and use tax collections for the surrounding Archuleta County. Rafting trips on the Arkansas River are up 17 percent since Browns Canyon was designated a national monument. Last year rafting on the river had an economic impact of more than $73 million. These impacts are not surprising. An independent research group found that the communities surrounding 17 new national monuments all saw economic growth after the new designation. In total, the over 7 million visitors to our national parks in Colorado add $485 million annually to the state’s economy. Rural communities near parks can’t afford to lose this income.
As a Christian pastor who believes that human beings have been given a responsibility by God to be good stewards of creation, our first Public Lands Day should remind all of us of the gift we have been given by previous generations and our duty to protect it for our children and grandchildren. I urge President Trump not to roll back these protections, but to strengthen them. I am encouraged by Sen. Cory Gardner’s expressed support for protecting Colorado’s natural heritage, and I look forward to working with him and with all my fellow Coloradans to preserve federal protection of our national monuments. I invite you to join me in this effort.
Rev. Dr. Scott K. Beebe is pastor of Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Vail.
An attack on one monument is an assault on all
The citizens of the Western Slope of Colorado have always had a strong connection to our public lands. With world class outdoor recreation topography including Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, our community and our livelihoods are inextricably linked to the quality of these wild places. This connection seems lost on those who would “review” our public lands from distant offices in our nation’s capitol. The president’s recent executive order to review national monuments, currently underway by the Department of Interior, is an affront to the local communities that depend on protected public lands for sustainable, consistent economic growth.
I’ve lived and worked on the Western Slope of Colorado for 46 years. I’ve seen how our region has benefited from historic oil and gas development. However, we need to be honest about the boom-and-bust cycles that come with the energy industry. We need to continue to put energy into diversifying our economy. The best way forward for sustaining and strengthening our recreation economy depends on our protected public lands, like our national monuments.
National monuments throughout Colorado enjoy broad-based support. Eighty-three percent of Coloradans want to maintain existing protections for these unique, wild, and historic places, according the Colorado College State of the Rockies poll. We live their impact on our communities and economies.
My business, Adventure Bound River Expeditions, is part of a very important outdoor recreation economy in Colorado. Updated state-level numbers from the Outdoor Industry Association are on their way this summer, but we know that nationwide, our industry contributes $887 billion in consumer spending while employing 7.6 million Americans. That makes our industry as large as the auto industry and pharmaceutical industries combined.
The Western Slope’s outdoor recreation economy is growing stronger every day. It is a fact that the tourism industry is the No. 1 job creator in Colorado at this time. And Colorado’s Western Slope is not the only region in this country that benefits from protected public lands like national monuments. According to Headwaters Economics, rural Western counties with higher proportions of protected public lands have performed better in population growth, per-capita income, personal income and employment over the last 45 years. Another study focused specifically on national monuments found that economic indicators in adjacent counties continued to improve following the designation of the monuments. This was true for both Canyons of the Ancients here in Colorado, and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, monuments that face review.
All of these monuments underwent months and years of planning that involved hundreds of stakeholders. Many voices contributed to the efforts that led to these designations, voices of and from the local communities and business owners like me. What could a review process lasting only a matter of days possibly reveal that these years of discussion by local community members did not? When the president vilifies federal overreach, I would think that he might consider looking in the mirror.
I recently joined the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance, a coalition of 158 Colorado businesses that recognize what public lands mean to our economic interests and bottom line and choose to speak up when these resources are threatened. Now is one of those times. Secretary Zinke, this review of our national monuments represents a threat to the livelihoods of business owners across Colorado and the West. Respect the long, community-driven processes that created these monuments, and the local communities that depend on them. Do not recommend any changes to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, home to over 6,000 Ancestral Puebloan resources, or any other Colorado monuments.
Many of our elected leaders in Colorado also know the value of these spaces, and have asked President Trump and Secretary Zinke to not modify our monuments. Sen. Cory Gardner, in particular, must stand behind his recent letter to Secretary Zinke and do everything in his power to protect not only Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, but all of our monuments.
An attack on one monument is an attack on all monuments. Western Slope residents know these places. They sustain us, and in turn, we must protect them.
Tom Kleinschnitz is the owner of Adventure Bound Inc., and director of the Moffat County Tourism Association.